FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — A soldier from Fort Bragg has deserted his unit and fled to Canada. Jeremy Hinzman, 25, said he is against killing and did not realize when he signed up for the Army that he would have to go to war.
"I was really naive at the time," he said. "I didn't know the full gravity of it."
Hinzman, from Rapid City, S.D., said he joined the Army back in 2001 after being enticed by the benefits, including subsidized housing, groceries and, at the end of his service, the money for college.
"In my case, it was $50,000, and it just seemed like a life of relative comfort compared to what I was living," he said.
"It seemed like a good financial decision. I had a romantic vision of what the Army was."
Once he started his training at Ft. Bragg, Hinzman realized he was training to go to war.
Hinzman filed a claim to become a conscientious objector, a claim the Army denied. So when he heard his unit was going to Iraq, Hinzman packed up his wife and son and fled to Canada last month.
"The nature of my claim was I had just -- through my training -- found the whole aspect of killing repulsive," he said.
"I'm sure the overall reaction, at least in the mainstream media, will be overwhelmingly negative, and I can see why, on the surface, people would feel that way."
A member of the 2nd Battalion of the 504th Brigade Parachute Infantry Regiment, Hinzman could be prosecuted as a deserter if he is caught inside the United States.
He will be listed on a national database and could be arrested. But the Army will not go looking for him, said Sgt. Pam Smith, a spokeswoman for the 82nd Airborne, based at Fort Bragg.
"We don't have time to go and track down people who go AWOL," she said. "We're fighting a war."
Hinzman said he turned in his first application to be a conscientious objector in August 2002, saying he wanted to fulfill his service obligation but not to participate in combat.
He said Army officials told him his six-page explanation was lost. But later, when he was doing clerical work, he was handed a file that included the application.
He reapplied, but by that time his unit was on track to go to Afghanistan, and he left with it. With the application still pending, he was kept off patrol and worked as a dishwasher.
Hinzman said his application was denied while he was in Afghanistan.
He returned to Fayetteville in July and talked things over with his wife, Nga Nguyen. They figured it was only a matter of time before his unit would be sent to Iraq. He said he felt the war there was unjust and was being fought over oil interests.
On Dec. 20, Hinzman found out that his unit would be deployed to Iraq. On Jan. 2 -- a Friday, the start of a four-day weekend -- he packed his wife and 14-month-old son, Liam, into their car for the 18-hour drive to Canada.
His absence was noticed that Monday. He was declared absent without leave the following day.
Hinzman's chances of receiving refugee status are slim: Canada's Immigration and Refugee Board said none of the 268 American applicants last year was accepted.
Those who are denied refugee status may be granted permission to stay in Canada under other provisions, said Charles Hawkins, a spokesman for the board.